Do Convenient, Little Cell Phones Pose Health Risk?
The Toronto Star
Journalist: Theresa Ebden
January 28, 1999
High-frequency cordless models alarm scientist
What is the price of cordless convenience?
A top research scientist in electromagnetic radiation believes high- frequency cordless phones are a health hazard.
“That’s alarming!” cried renowned American scientist Henry Lai, when told of a new 2.4 gigaHertz phone model.
He says it’s on an energy par with a cellphone, and nearly the same frequency as a microwave, but with much less power.
“That’s using a lot of energy. Yes, I would be worried.”
Today’s high-frequency cordless phones may emit a level of electromagnetic radiation similar to cellphones. And for reasons of health and privacy, a growing number of scientists and other experts are dead set against cellphones. They say a cancer risk is associated with signals that have a strong wattage and high frequency (short wavelength).
First generation cordless phones operate at about 60 megaHertz and the next ones ran at 900 megaHertz – higher than 835 MHz cellphones. The new 2.4 GHz is higher still and can transmit for several kilometres without fading.
Users of the new high-frequency phones could be exposed to likely carcinogenic candidates, according to Lai, a top researcher in the effects of electromagnetic waves on living tissue. Lai says his research seems to indicate that there are biological effects of electromagnetic waves from microwaves and possibly cellphones. “What kind of consequence of using a cellphone, we don’t know. We do know that radiation can damage DNA and cause a cell to die. That is not a good thing.”
At a Vienna conference last year, Lai and a group of scientists issued a warning against the use of cellphones. That followed a London Sunday Times report that research by Lai and another scientist has linked cellphone use to cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and memory loss. The research was largely funded by the telecommunications industry, which refused to publish it because of what it called “amateurish quality.”
Not all scientists share Lai’s findings. According to Dr. Kenneth Foster, a Philadelphia scientist who is funded by the communications giant, Lucent Technologies, none of these dangers has been proven to his satisfaction.
Health risk aside, there’s still the issue of reduced privacy. In fact, whenever your voice is carried over the electromagnetic spectrum, there is a chance that a neighbour or a wannabe spy is sitting in his or her apartment, wired to the hilt and ready to receive your signal.
Man forced himself to stop eavesdropping
Consider the man who forced himself to quit eavesdropping over scanners after he overheard his neighbours tell their friends that they were dreading going to dinner at his house the next evening. “I felt like giving the rib roast a spit bath,” he penned in an Internet scanning information group.
The cordless phone industry’s answers to avoiding people like this are expensive and not entirely foolproof. First, you’d need to buy a high-frequency phone that would be too difficult and expensive for most radio and scanner hobbyists to tune into. That means a 900 MHz digital spread spectrum (DSS) model or even the 2.4 GHz phone, according to Farhad Bakteria, a salesperson at Future Shop on Yonge St. “Still, if somebody really really wants to listen in, they will,’ ‘ he points out.
This opinion was shared by officials at Industry Canada’s spectrum management office.
“A couple of years ago it was made illegal to scan cellphones, but it’s not illegal to listen to cordless ones. There are a bunch of channels available,” says one official, who prefers to stay anonymous.
Others aren’t aware that they’re at risk. After all, except for the case of Mr. Spit Bath, electromagnetic frequencies are not exactly dinner conversation.
One Toronto psychotherapist says she wouldn’t talk about a client on the Internet because it’s “not secure,” but has never thought about the ramifications of using a cordless phone to discuss a patient’ s problems.